The Royal Pavilion grew over 35 years from a simple farmhouse to a spectacular oriental palace.
George IV had a vision. His confidence in this vision, combined with his extravagant and indulgent ways and indifference to the opinion of others, resulted in the creation of the palace as we see it today.
From farmhouse to modest villa
In 1787 architect Henry Holland extended the original farmhouse into a neo-classical building known as the Marine Pavilion.
The exterior of this building was decorated with Holland’s favourite cream-glazed Hampshire tiles. The east face looked over the Steine (an open area where fishermen used to dry their nets). The prince’s apartments were located in the south wing, and the modest kitchens were located in the west.
George was a great collector of French, Dutch and Flemish decorative arts. He also loved the chinoiserie decorative style, a style inspired by China and at its most fashionable in the mid 18th century. He employed the Crace firm of decorators to furnish his Marine Pavilion with Chinese wallpapers, furniture and objects as well as large quantities of bamboo and lacquer furniture.
The prince had a passion for horse riding, hunting and carriage driving. In 1808 his magnificent stable complex (now housing Brighton Museum and the Brighton Dome concert hall) was completed. It was designed in the Indian style by William Porden.
Some considered these new buildings over-generous as accommodation for horses. They dwarfed the Marine Pavilion and the prince’s thoughts again turned to building a new Royal Pavilion.
From modest villa to magnificent splendour
The transformation of the Marine Pavilion began in 1815 and took seven years to complete.
George chose architect John Nash who proposed an Indian style in response to the design of the new stable block. Nash was also inspired by landscape gardener Humphrey Repton (who had published designs for a new palace based on Indian architectural forms) and based many of his ideas on a publication called Oriental Scenery.
Work began on the alterations to the western central front, followed by the construction of the Great Kitchen and the two new state rooms – the Music Room and the Banqueting Room.
The entire building, the structure and the elaborate internal decorations, were completed in 1823.
The complex composition of domes, towers and minarets created a romantic exterior. Either side of the central large dome are two towers that serviced the interior rooms over the Saloon, one with a staircase, the other with a hoist. To achieve a picturesque effect the rendered surfaces of the Royal Pavilion were painted to create a unified vision of a building made of Bath stone.
Throughout the period of construction, the Prince Regent delighted in showing his guests and friends the progress of his favourite project. He often gave after dinner tours of the works in progress, with Nash’s plans in hand.
1n 1817 George hired artist-designers Frederick Crace and Robert Jones. Their final schemes for the interiors combined rich and sophisticated decoration with the superb quality of the furniture and furnishings. Thus they created a magnificent and opulent setting for George IV, who was crowned king in 1820.
A Regency palace with the latest mod-cons
The completed Royal Pavilion was considered progressive for its time. It was designed to incorporate the latest technology and equipment to meet the king’s demands for warmth, comfort and convenience.
New gadgets were supplied for the kitchens. Gas lighting was introduced for the first time to illuminate the painted-glass windows. Local springs ensured easily available supplies of water and the king was provided with a fitted and fully plumbed bathroom, with flushing water closets installed throughout the palace.
Glorious Regency gardens
John Nash’s designs also incorporated the great revolution in landscape gardening that began in the 1730s.
The palace was soon surrounded by glorious Regency gardens with winding paths and drives interspersed with irregular beds of mixed shrubs and flowers, and neatly kept lawns.
Keeping George IV’s vision alive
By the time George IV died in 1830, the ambitious remodelling of the Royal Pavilion was already starting to show structural problems. The roof had started to leak and concealed drainpipes were overflowing and causing dry rot.
Restoration of the Royal Pavilion began in the mid 19th century and has been ongoing ever since. A major restoration and conservation programme of the interiors began in the 1920s, with work on the structure beginning in the early 1980s.
Find out more about the conservation and restoration that continues today.
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